“Bring those palm branches over here… yeah, just scatter those on top…”
We were building our first-ever sukkah and getting excited about the party we were going to host in it later. Almost every Jewish home on our kibbutz in the Galilee was buzzing with excitement as these temporary three-walled structures started appearing on patios across the valley. It was fun to see the different varieties of sukkot—big and small, simple and decorated to the hilt. We had a bit of a pest control problem in our sukkah—flies. One helpful Israeli told us to hang a bag of water from the ceiling. Our aqua disco ball seemed to do the trick. After saying a blessing for the food, we ate, sang songs, and played games with our Israeli neighbors for the rest of the evening in our happy, small, temporary, simple sukkah.
You may know “Sukkot” as “the Feast of Tabernacles” instituted by God in Leviticus 23:33–44. This seven-day celebration of remembrance involves temporary dwellings, harvest celebrations, offerings, feasting together, hospitality, rest, camping out in the sukkah, and—did I mention feasting? Sukkot commemorates God’s presence, provision, and protection of the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness for 40 years after He miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Miraculous deliverance followed by miraculous sustenance. FORTY YEARS, PEOPLE! Two generations—think about that! During this wilderness wandering, a pillar of cloud by day (water) and a pillar of fire by night (light) represented God’s presence. A special portable house of worship, the Tabernacle, became the place of sacrifice and offering to God.
Sukkot is one of Israel’s three pilgrim festivals in which God commanded His people to travel to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:13–17). After the Israelites inhabited the Promised Land, King Solomon built a Temple to be a dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant. It was during this very special time of year, during Sukkot, that Solomon offered a prayer of dedication in the completed Temple, and the Ark was brought into the holy place, and the Shekinah glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord (1 Kings 8). What a powerful, awesome moment that must have been!
You might be thinking, “Yeah, I guess that’s kind of cool for them, but why is this important for me to know?” What is it about this particular demonstration of God’s presence and sustaining power in these Hebrew lives that foreshadows the Messiah, the “Substance” of God’s great plan of reconciliation and redemption and restoration (Colossians 2:16–17)?
By the time of Jesus (Yeshua—“salvation”), there were certain symbolic elements added to the celebration of Sukkot. On each day of the feast, the priests would fill a pitcher from the pool of Siloam, lead a lively parade up to the Temple, and pour out the water before the altar. This pouring out exemplified a prayer for abundant rainfall and for the next harvest to be bountiful (Isaiah 12:3). They were affirming that the God of Israel supplies life-sustaining water. On the last day of the Feast, Jesus stood in the Temple and cried, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37–38).
A second addition is noted in the Mishnah (Sukkah 5)—Four giant candelabras were erected in the court of the women on the Temple Mount. It says in Sukkah 5 that “there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illuminated by the light of Bet Hashoevah” (literally, the water-drawing house). Perhaps this was an attempt to manufacture a similar effect of the Shekinah glory which once filled the Temple, representing God’s glorious presence. The next morning after the last day of the feast, Jesus made another bold statement: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
A few months later, Jesus comforted his followers who were fearing His soon, temporary departure with these words: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known my Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:1–3, 6–7).
As a Gentile follower of the Jewish Messiah, the Light of the world, I am super thankful for the presence of God in my life, by grace through faith.
As a Gentile follower of the Jewish Messiah, the Light of the world (Isaiah 49:6), I am super thankful for the presence of God in my life, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). I’m thankful for the promise “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:5–13). I’m grateful for the “Living Water” which the Messiah offers to ANYONE who thirsts. And I anticipate with every fiber of my being that great Sukkot celebration to come!
You see, the Messiah Jesus came once as Mashiach Ben Joseph, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and He will return as Mashiach Ben David, the King, the LORD of Hosts! The prophet Zechariah points ahead to a future harvest or in-gathering celebration (Zechariah 14:16–21). This is like the ultimate home-coming party. Every Jew and Gentile who worships the King, the LORD of Hosts, will go up to Jerusalem and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles together. Oh, what a day that will be! This will not be a temporary, flimsy dwelling. No, this dwelling is ETERNAL! I can almost hear that voice from heaven say, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). Now THAT will be a “Sublime Sukkah!”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!